Saturday, January 28, 2012

New Azarenka ready for Open glory

Updated January 27, 2012 18:54:23

No longer too "young and emotional" for major singles glory, Victoria Azarenka believes she is finally ready to deliver on her rich potential in Saturday night's Australian Open final.

Azarenka and Maria Sharapova will square off for Open honours and the world number one ranking in a double-edged title showdown dubbed the battle of the tennis scream queens at Melbourne Park.

Azarenka is well aware of the dubious billing, but says disgruntled fans - and Sharapova - can make all the noise they like.

She will be at Rod Laver Arena to win, plain and simple.

"I really want it bad," the 22-year-old said ahead of her maiden major final.

Azarenka played her first tour match at 13 and has long been earmarked for greatness.

But an inability to control her emotions prevented the Belarusian from really making her mark until reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals last year.

After backing up that breakthrough to make the final of the season-ending championships and opening 2012 with a ninth career title in Sydney, Azarenka delivered perhaps the quote of the Australian Open upon scoring her 11th straight win of the year in the semi-finals.

"Before, you all thought I was a mental case. I was just young and emotional," the third seed said after ousting defending champion Kim Clijsters.

"For sure I had - how do you call that - meltdowns? There you go," the new and improved Azarenka added on Friday.

"Yeah, I had some. For sure you can see some on YouTube.

"But I grow as a player, I grow as a person and I try to learn from my mistakes and make it better.

"So I'm proud of what I'm doing. I just want to keep going and keep raising that level."

A winner of the 2005 Australian Open junior girls' championship, Azarenka has played Sharapova six times for three wins each.

They have two wins apiece on hardcourts and split their two meetings last year.

Azarenka, though, leads 2-0 in finals against her more experienced opponent.

"Of course I know Maria's game. She knows my game," Azarenka said.

"In finals, anything can happen. It's different stage of a tournament. It's a battle for giving really your all and how well you can manage it."

Sharapova, shooting her for fourth major and second Open trophy after triumphing in 2008, is not banking on any edge against the first-time finalist.

"Well, I played Petra in her first grand slam final (at Wimbledon last year). She played really high-quality tennis out there on the grass and she went out there and it didn't really affect her," the Russian said.

"So even though Victoria hasn't really been in that stage of a grand slam before, she's certainly won big titles and she has the experience.

"This is a stage she's wanted to be at for a long time, so I do expect her to play really good tennis.

"She makes you hit a lot of balls and she's aggressive as well.

"I mean, she's a really, really good player and I haven't had great success against her in the last couple of events that we've played against each other.

"I'd really like to change that. It will be important to tactically play right."

Even Azarenka concedes the final will be a high-decibel affair.

She's heard about the grunt-o-meter machine - "money well spent, huh?" - and knows Sharapova will be loud.

"Well, I'm not deaf. Of course I hear her," Azarenka said.

"I'm sure she hears me. And about another 15,000 people hear us maybe even further away.

"It doesn't bother me. I respect every opponent. Whatever they do, they try to do their best job. I think that's fair enough."


Tags: tennis, sport, melbourne-3000, vic, australia

First posted January 27, 2012 18:51:38

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